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Case Number 14649: Small Claims Court

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Icons Of Horror: Hammer Films

The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll
1960 // 88 Minutes // Rated G
Scream Of Fear (Aka Taste Of Fear)
1961 // 78 Minutes // Rated G
The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb
1964 // 81 Minutes // Rated G
The Gorgon
1964 // 83 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Sony
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // October 2nd, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Jim Thomas froze like a statue when hyding from his mummy, so as not to scream with fear.

The Charge

Four Creepy Classics (almost) from the Hammer Films Archives.

The Case

Icons of Horror: Hammer Films brings together four minor classics from Hammer Studios. Each of these films illustrates some of the particular strengths and weaknesses of many Hammer films. None of these films is truly great, though a couple flirt with greatness. Still, if you're at all a fan of horror movies, this is an enjoyable collection.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
A group of Egyptologists, including the beautiful Annette DuBois (Jeanne Roland) and her beau John Bray (Ronald Howard), have discovered the underground tomb of Ra-Antef, a minor Egyptian prince of whom no one knows a thing. Shortly afterwards, Annette's father, the leader of the expedition, is brutally murdered by Bedouins. When the survivors return to London, they have two obstacles to overcome. To begin with, the American who bankrolled their expedition plans to take the mummy on the road from town to town. Secondly, an attack on one of the expedition members raises talk of the mummy's curse, condemning all who defiled the grave to death. In the midst of the chaos, Annette finds an admirer in an amateur Egyptologist, Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan), who somehow knows everything about Ra-Antef, including the fact that after Ra-Antef went into exile after discovering the secret of life after death, his brother Be-Antef had him assassinated.

Hammer's second mummy movie has nothing to do with the first (1959's classic The Mummy), but instead brings a fresh twist to an old genre. Adam Beauchamp turns out to be the mummy's brother, Be-Antef, cursed by his father to eternal life—he can only die at the hands of his brother—you know, the brother he had killed? That's a pretty kick-ass curse—unless, of course, if you're the cursed. So once the tomb of Ra-Antef is discovered, Beauchamp is looking for ways to bring the mummy to life…so that his brother can kill him. Hammer was never afraid of tweaking the stories as needed, or of introducing unexpected twists. Where they occasionally went wrong is in the development. Way too much time is spent on the sideshow subplot—in addition, Adam's encyclopedic knowledge of an unknown Egyptian prince pretty much tags him as a villain of some stripe or another almost immediately. While it takes too damn long for the main plot to get off the ground, once it does, it does so with a vengeance. Acting is a little uneven—well, it would be more accurate to say that everyone does an excellent job but Jeanne Roland, whose sole talent is filling out low-cut costumes. There's something of a kitchen sink aspect to the movie, with its odd mix of horror, mystery, and thriller, but it somehow manages to work.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a reclusive, anti-social scientist. His neglected wife Kitty (Dawn Addams) has been having an affair with Jekyll's friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), who also frequently gets Jekyll to pay off his debts. Jekyll has been experimenting with human nature—he's not interested in good and evil, but rather wishes to go beyond good and evil (that would make a good book title, don't you think?) and free mankind from the artificial limitations that society puts on human behavior. The resulting Edward Hyde promptly befriends the dissolute Paul, discovering Paul and Kitty's affair in the process.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll tries to offer a deceptively complex take on the Stevenson story. The obvious change is the eschewing of the good/evil dynamic in favor of the more complex Nietztchian archetype. But that approach is further enhances by the makeup decisions. Director Terence Fisher covers up Paul Massie's good looks with a beard, wig, and colored contacts—and makes that the face of Jekyll; these facial coverings become symbols of the societal restraints holding Jekyll back. When they are removed, we get Hyde—not a brutish Hyde, but an amoral one. Fisher relies on lighting and odd camera angles, along with slightly exaggerated facial expressions, to convey Hyde's Otherness. All of the other characters follow society's dictates to some degree or another, but not Hyde. When he fails to seduce Kitty directly, he offers to absolve Paul's considerable debts if Paul will arrange for Hyde to sleep with Kitty, but for all his caddish behavior, there are limits to what Paul will do. It is an all too rare delight to see Christopher Lee get to play a more traditional character, and see him do so with a wide emotional range. Also keep an eye out for a young Oliver Reed as a dance hall bouncer.

Because a good chunk of the film is spent developing Hyde's amoral character—as opposed to a more violent, evil Hyde—the middle of the film tends to drag; in particular, there are several sequences in a dance hall that play out a bit too long. A secondary problem is that Jekyll himself is almost a nonentity. He goes through the "what have I done" motions, but he is supposed to be a scientist—what has he learned through all of this? The ending is perhaps more perfunctory than one would expect, though it's not without a sense of poetic justice. Hyde kills Paul, rapes and kills Kitty, and frames Jekyll for the crimes, thinking that the threat of jail will force Jekyll into allowing Hyde to remain dominant. But as Hyde finishes his statement at the inquest, Jekyll, gaining control one last time, forces a transformation from Hyde to Jekyll right in front of the police. Jekyll is immediately taken into custody; presumably, he (and Hyde with him) will summarily receive a life sentence, if not worse. Ultimately, though, there's a sense that the ideas are never fully developed.

The Gorgon
A young girl chases her lover into a forest, her body discovered the next day. The locals don't want to know about the mysterious death, just as they try to ignore the mysterious deaths that have occurred during the past five years, so when the girl's lover is found hanged in the forest, they are only too quick to declare that the man murdered the girl in a rage and then hanged himself in remorse. But the man's father, and later, the man's brother Paul (Richard Pasco) will not accept the official verdict. When they investigate on their own, they discover the legend of Megera, one of the three Gorgons from Greek mythology. So hideous is her visage that anyone seeing it is petrified. Paul sees her face reflected in a pool, and is unconscious for several days; he awakens in the hospital of Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing, Top Secret!), the local scientist who has been aiding the authorities in covering up the murders. As Paul recuperates, he and Namaroff's nurse, Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley, Dracula, Prince of Darkness), fall in love. Paul and his newly arrived mentor, Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee, Dracula, Prince of Darkness), sift through the notes of Paul's father, a literature professor whose knowledge of mythology found some valuable clues before he too succumbed to the Gorgon's gaze. Paul finds himself torn between taking Carla to build a new life elsewhere and avenging his father and brother.

The Gorgon is classic Hammer Horror: atmosphere galore, strong performances. However, the plot itself is an absolute mess, albeit a strangely compelling one. Really, it's almost as though they grabbed a werewolf script off the shelf, replaced "werewolf" with "Gorgon," "torn apart" with "turned to stone," and had done (The Gorgon only appears during the full moon). So many questions! Why is that now, after thousands of years, the spirit of the Gorgon has possessed a human? Why does Namaroff finally decide to take action against the Gorgon? There are too many unanswered questions such as these and too many extraneous elements. Of the four films, this one is perhaps the most frustrating, because it appears to be only a rewrite or two away from greatness. But when it works, it works well—Paul's father attempting to write a letter before turning to stone, Professor Meister connecting the dots—at that point, a marvelously fatalistic air descends on the movie—we pretty much know how it's going to end; all that remains are the petty details.

Yes, the makeup effects on the Gorgon are hideously bad, but they have the decency to keep it out of sight for most of the film.

Scream of Fear
Paraplegic Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg, Picnic) visits her father's home on the French Riviera for the first time in ten years. She's greeted by her new stepmother, Jane (Ann Todd), who tells Penny that her father had to leave unexpectedly on a business trip. That night, Penny finds her father's corpse in the villa's guest house, but the next morning, it is gone. Over the next several days, Penny keeps seeing her father's corpse, only to have it disappear before anyone else can arrive. Bob, her father's chauffeur (Ronald Lewis) suspects that Jane is attempting to drive Penny insane. Too late, Penny discovers the truth—Jane and Bob are in on the plan—the Rolls, carrying Penny and her father's corpse, goes off a cliff and into the sea. But as the authorities cross the t's and dot the i's on their investigation, they make a puzzling discovery—Penny killed herself in Italy…three weeks ago. Now Jane and Bob must rush to determine who's been playing with their minds.

Director Seth Holt does a wonderful job establishing an unsettled, shadowy world for the film, one that captures the feel of both Hitchcock and Clouzot. By keeping the camera at a lower level—roughly the level of someone on a wheelchair, Holt constantly reminds us that our perspective is that of Penny's. Despite the unsettling mood of the film, the plot is a bit too derivative of other movies, going all the way back to Gaslight, to be effective.

The restoration jobs are simply magnificent—images are crisp and vibrant. At time the color seems oversaturated, but vivid colors have always been a calling card of Hammer. Scream of Fear, a black-and-white film, did not fare as well with the restoration. There's a substantial amount of flicker, and darker shadows are often murky and indistinct. The sound is also very good (for mono tracks). There are virtually no extras—only the theatrical trailer for each film.

While none of these can really be called classics, all four movies are enjoyable in their own way. Hammer fans (I'm one of them) will certainly want this set. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll

• Original Trailer

Scales of Justice, Scream Of Fear (Aka Taste Of Fear)

Judgment: 77

Perp Profile, Scream Of Fear (Aka Taste Of Fear)

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, Scream Of Fear (Aka Taste Of Fear)

• Original Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb

• Original Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Gorgon

Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, The Gorgon

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Gorgon

• Original Trailer

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